‘Do it for Holli’ is the catchcry of the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs as they head into tomorrow’s Harvey Norman NSW Women’s Premiership Grand Final against Mounties at Leichhardt Oval.
Their experienced Jillaroo and Sky Blue forward has been felled one game short of the decider, suffering a right-knee injury in last week’s 16-8 Semi-final win over the Illawarra Steelers.
Wheeler returned to the sidelines for the final minutes on crutches, cheering her teammates on and vowing to get back playing as soon as possible.
But she couldn’t make it back for the Grand Final and sent her team supportive messages on social media after she was ruled out.
That brought a quick response from fellow Bulldogs players.
“For you my guy,” fellow Jillaroo Kennedy Cherrington said in reply to Wheeler’s Instagram post.
“Got you always my No.10,” said halfback Tayla Preston.
The brighter side of Wheeler’s exit is that her injury happened in the 20th minute and the Bulldogs rallied over the final 50 minutes without their inspirational prop forward.
“After Holli we huddled up and said ‘This is for Holli. Now is the time to step up – we need each other’,” Cherrington told nswrl.com.au
“We rolled up our sleeves and showed a lot better discipline and resilience in the second half.
“She’s been such a big part and put in so much to this team that we won’t let her down even if she’s not on the park with us.”
Cherrington, who will start at lock, props Angelina Teakaraanga-Katoa, Alexis Tauaneai, and second rowers Monolisa Soliola and Maroons Origin star Tiana Raftsrand-Smith, present a formidable Bulldogs pack.
But they need to be taking on Jillaroos and Sky Blues veteran Simaima Taufa and the Cook Islands representative pair, sisters Kerehitina and Terehia Matua.
Working off the back of that considerable go-forward for the Mounties this year has been halfback Tilly Power.
“The last couple of years really sucked with missing out (on finals),” Power told nswrl.com.au.
“That drove us a lot this year. We’ve worked really hard all season and although there’s been some doubters, the players never stopped believing even when we got hit with a few injuries.
“We’ve never felt intimidated by some of the other teams, who were pretty stacked with rep stars.
“You never know what can happen on the day if you all put in.”
Cherrington is more than aware of the powers of the Matua’s.
“With the Matua sisters we have to get into their legs early,” she said.
“They’re like (PNG Orchids prop and captain) Elsie Albert – don’t let her run or she’ll run all over the top of you.
“It will be a middles game early and then a battle of the backs. We’re very aware of Tilly Power and how she can feed her outside players.”